It’s just one match, but it’s safe to say these aren’t the same Kansas City Wizards from a year ago.
With former manager Curt Onalfo and D.C. United in town hoping to spoil the Wizards home opener, Kansas City made quite a statement in front a sellout crowd.
Four different players found the back of the net, and the Wizards suffocated D.C. United on the defensive end to notch a 4-0 victory on a soggy and windswept night at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
“We wanted to make sure that we put our stamp on things here at home,” defender Jimmy Conrad said. “We’re not just going to sit back and take it like we did last year.”
Last season, Kansas City had the unenviable distinction of collecting the least home points in Major League Soccer. On Saturday night, the Wizards imposed their will on D.C. from the very start, putting constant pressure on the ball and limiting the visitors to just three shots on goal and very little meaningful possession.
At the center of that pressure were the team’s new additions.
In the center of the park, holding midfielder Stéphane Auvray shielded the back four and sparked the Wizards attack with his distribution. In the attacking third, midfielder Ryan Smith terrorized United all night, skipping past defenders with ease and contributing a goal and an assist in his first MLS match.
“He’s an extremely dangerous player on the field, especially one versus one,” Vermes said of Smith. “It’s hard to control him.”
Instead of being satisfied with a 2-0 advantage, Kansas City pushed forward in the second half in search of another goal to kill the game. Predictably, that goal came from Smith, who put the exclamation point on a MLS debut that was close to perfect.
“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” he said.
The Wizards spoke all preseason about the need to keep their opponents on the back foot. On Saturday night, they backed that talk up with a commanding performance on the defensive end. United never truly threatened Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen after the first 15 minutes.
“I think they would enjoy being on their field where they can move it around and try to keep it a bit more,” striker Josh Wolff said. “But we just weren’t going to let them feel that comfortable.”
Perhaps the lone negative in the victory was that Smith’s health is up in the air after a tackle from behind by United’s Julius James forced him to the sidelines in the 81st minute. He will have a scan on his ankle on Monday.
But even with that minor setback, Kansas City can take pleasure in the fact that it put on a show for a sellout crowd and gave notice that this team isn’t likely to be pushed around or back down. This is a different group of Wizards, and the league would be wise to take notice.
“We wanted to make a statement tonight,” Smith said, “and we did.”